Australia’s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) regulates movements of animals, plants and products to and from Australia. The Act helps to protect the environment from risks associated with the international movement of wildlife. It is also how Australia meets its obligations under CITES, an international agreement to regulate wildlife trade between countries.
Further information about the EPBC Act
Australia has other laws at the national, and state and territory levels of government to regulate the movement of animals, plants and their products. For example: The Australian Government’s agriculture portfolio includes the Biosecurity Act 2015, another national law that regulates the movement of animals, plants and products to Australia.
Australia’s state and territory governments have laws on keeping wildlife within their borders. They also regulate the import and export of wildlife across their borders.
Some movements of wildlife are not allowed. In some cases a permit is required. To find out when a permit is required, go to the Do I need a permit? page.
If you have a permit, you must meet the conditions stated on the permit. The Australian Government can conduct inspections and desktop reviews to check. The Government investigates suspected breaches and has powers to conduct site visits and seize evidence. Specimens that have been illegally obtained or imported can be seized. In serious cases, breaches can lead to the suspension or cancellation of permits, and prosecution.
Members of the public play an important role in protecting the environment — including reporting suspected breaches. The Department encourages the members of the public to report suspected breaches of international wildlife trade laws, and values the information and support it receives from the community. For more information on reporting possible illegal activity see the "Report illegal wildlife trade activities and scams" section below.
A Notice of Seizure is issued when an item is, or is suspected of being, derived from a regulated species and was not accompanied by the appropriate wildlife trade permits.
The Department or another government agency may order the immediate disposal of an item or live animal if it is considered to be a serious threat to the environment and/or public health. Additionally, disposal may be ordered in the case of a live animal if it is in significant distress. If this happens you will be notified.
If you have been issued with a Notice of Seizure you have the following options. These options are listed on the back of the grey copy of the Notice of Seizure:
- You can forfeit ownership of the item to the Commonwealth. Tick the appropriate box on the grey copy, sign and date the copy, and email us a scan of the signed copy, or send us the original by post.
- You can apply for the item to be returned to you, only if:
- You are the owner of the item
- can prove that the item was not otherwise involved in a breach of Australia’s wildlife trade laws.
There are two ways to apply for the return of your item:
- You can apply for the return of your item by completing the online application form. Alternatively tick the appropriate box on the back of the grey copy of the notice and email a scan to us or send us the original by post. Before applying it is advisable to read the Wildlife Seizures Guidelines to find out how applications are assessed. We will let you know the outcome of your application, or whether we need more information. There is no fee.
- You can apply to a court to order us to return the item to you. Please let us know if you decide to do this. You can notify us by ticking the appropriate box on the grey copy of the notice and email a scan to us or send us the original by post. You may be required to pay court fees and other costs.
- You are the owner of the item
- You can apply to have the item returned to the overseas country of export, but only if you meet all of the following conditions:
- You are the owner of the item.
- The item was legally exported from the overseas country.
- If you had applied for a permit to import the item into Australia, the permit would not have been granted.
- You agree to meet all costs associated with the return of the item.
- You provide written evidence that the overseas country of export agrees for the item to be returned.
If you choose options A, B or C you must apply within 30 days of seizure or Notice of Seizure being given.
If you do not pursue any of these options, within 30 days of seizure or Notice of Seizure being given, or if your application for return is not successful, the item will become the property of the Australian Government.
Most seized items are destroyed. For seized live animals there are additional legal requirements, meaning that one of the following things will happen:
- The animal will be housed within Australia at an accredited institution (a member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association).
- The animal will be re-exported to an appropriate facility outside of Australia.
- The animal will be euthanised humanely by a qualified veterinarian.
For more information refer to sections 444C to 456AC of the EPBC Act.
The EPBC Act authorises the Australian Federal Police and Customs officers to seize animals, plants and products that may have been brought to Australia illegally. There are severe penalties for wildlife trafficking including fines and imprisonment. The maximum penalties for various offences appear in the following table.
in order of severity
|Importing or exporting a regulated specimen without an authorisation (permit) or exemption||Imprisonment for 10 years or 1,000 penalty units ($222,000) or both||Sections 303CC, 303CD, 303DD, 303EK|
|Possessing an illegally imported specimen or the progeny of such specimens||Imprisonment for 5 years or 1,000 penalty units ($222,000) or both||Section 303GN|
|Importing a specimen to Australia contrary to the corresponding laws of a foreign country||Imprisonment for 5 years||Section 303GQ|
|Subjecting a regulated specimen that is a live animal to cruel treatment when importing or exporting||Imprisonment for 2 years||Section 303GP|
|Providing false or misleading information to obtain a permit or in response to a condition on a permit||Imprisonment for 2 years or 120 penalty units ($26,640) or both||Sections 489, 490|
|Providing false or misleading information to an authorised officer||Imprisonment for 1 year or 60 penalty units ($13,320) or both||Section 491|
|Contravening a permit condition resulting in the disposal or release of a live animal or plant||600 penalty units ($133,200)||Section 303GF|
|Contravening a permit condition||300 penalty units ($66,600)||Section 303GF|
|Removing or interfering with a mark that identifies a specimen||120 penalty units ($26,640)||Section 303EV|
You can help protect the environment by reporting illegal activities such as:
- wildlife smuggling or trafficking
- keeping or importing wildlife or wildlife parts from overseas without approval
- exporting native plants and animals to other countries without approval.
Why this is important
- Unregulated harvesting of wild animals and plants can cause extinctions and other damage to the environment.
- Overseas animals and plants could cause havoc to the Australian environment and industries by killing or competing with native species, or spreading diseases.
- Trafficking in live animals is cruel and wasteful.
- Wildlife trafficking may be linked to other crimes such as drug trafficking.
Examples of illegal activities to report
It is illegal to export a living Australian native mammal, reptile, bird or amphibian to another country for a commercial purpose – for example to sell it.
It is illegal to import a pet to Australia if the pet is a wild animal species (such as a monkey or a Fennel fox) or a hybrid of a wild animal (such as a Savannah cat). You can only import live animals to Australia legally if they are in the live import list.
It is illegal to keep an animal that was imported illegally from overseas, or was bred from an animal that was imported illegally. It is the owner’s responsibility to prove an animal was imported legally. For bird owners there is a scheme to keep track of exotic pet birds on the household pets page.
What to report
Anything you think is relevant, especially:
- species of animal, plant or wildlife part or product
- names and addresses of individuals or businesses
- how the animal, plant or wildlife part or product may have been imported or exported – for example, the date when it happened, the port of entry or exit, the method of transportation and concealment
- how you know – for example, evidence such as documents, correspondence, or links to websites.
How we will use your information
The Department will keep the information confidential. We will use it in our compliance and enforcement activities. This may include sharing the information with other agencies.
Generally we do not release information about these activities to the public. Sometimes the information may become public afterwards, for example through court hearings.
For more information see the Compliance Policy.
Beware of scams where websites, emails or printed advertisements offer exotic (non-native) animals for sale or adoption as pets. If you believe you have seen a scam or have been scammed please contact Scamwatch.